Foursquare: Gambling Your Long-time User Base

I’m one of those foodies who likes to post photos of my meals on my social media. I can’t answer for all foodies who do so, but in my case blogging/microblogging about gourmet cookery is a longtime avocation of mine, and just as they say “a picture is worth a thousand words,” a photo of a meal is one of the most efficient ways of documenting it.

App-storeFor some time now, my weapon of choice for doing this foodie-photo-sharing has been my Android phone equipped with Foursquare, the app that originated the concept of the destination check-in. I would use Foursquare and my phone’s GPS to look up all the details of the restaurant I was documenting, add the food photo plus some brief descriptive text, then share it to the social media platforms where my fellow foodies hung out, complete with a link back to all the restaurant details on Foursquare – all in a single user interface, more smoothly than the competitors in its field.

140811_foursquareswarmBut then Foursquare decided to do a major overhaul of their app – restyling it to be exclusively a local destination discovery app, splitting off the check-ins into a whole new separate app called Swarm, and in the process causing an upheaval in my restaurant-recording process. As a super-fan, I was appalled, and apparently I was not the only one (witness this Mashable article). Splitting the app in two simply baffled me; why did repositioning Foursquare to emphasize destination-discovery require banishing the check-ins to a separate app?

The CEO of Foursquare opined that most people only use Foursquare either exclusively for checking in or exclusively for discovery; but that was not the feeling I was getting from popular reactions on Twitter and among my friends who used the app, and it was certainly not the case for me.

However, I decided not to let my negative first impression stand without giving the new Foursquare/Swarm tandem apps a good college try. I therefore downloaded the new version of Foursquare and the new Swarm, and planned to document a meal as I would have with the old Foursquare. I immediately discovered I had to go through a setup process with both apps, which was rather tedious – especially when Foursquare wanted to have me enter a whole bunch of preferences into its recommendation software (shouldn’t Foursquare already have a ton of history with my preferences?).

Screen-Shot-2014-05-15-at-12.33.36-PM-640x449Finally, I was ready to take my Android to the target restaurant and order a tasty sammich. I switched on my GPS, opened Foursquare, and made it find the restaurant through local search. It took a bit of fiddling – the new Foursquare’s user interface is decidedly on the busy side. But eventually I found it – and there was even a button that read “Check-in” with Swarm’s little bee logo. I tapped that button – and whoosh! Suddenly the blue trimmed Foursquare screen was replaced by the orange of Swarm, and I was finishing my check-in in a differently-laid-out page. I forged on, got everything entered, hit “Post” … and yep, the post did wind up on Facebook and Twitter okay…

But there was this lingering feeling of confusion – okay, so am I in Swarm now, or Foursquare? If I want to add a tip to the listing for a restaurant: should I stay in Swarm or go back to Foursquare?

Worse, the functions of the two apps themselves seemed to get confused between themselves. This split-personality issue even showed up in my Facebook post – the post’s link should link to info about the restaurant, but instead the link navigates to a Swarm landing page with some minimal info; from there another link goes to Foursquare for all the detailed info on the restaurant.

In the end, it could certainly be that Foursquare’s C-level made this business decision due to Foursquare’s waning popularity, as hinted at in this VentureBeat article. However, I’m not at all certain that jumping into the crowded competitive field of destination discovery is going to be such an easy fix for their popularity problem. And in the meantime, they did succeed in irritating or disappointing their long-term users – which is not the smartest move when worried about usage numbers.

Trying to change things up and attract new users while keeping long-term users happy is not a new problem – giants like Microsoft catch grief for that issue all the time. In a Microsoft’s case, an effort is usually made to simplify the transition, and make the experience smooth and easy for long-timers. Alas, I feel that Foursquare was a lot more cavalier about their long-timers’ wants and needs.

As for me, a once-loyal user? I’ll probably limp along with the new Foursquare/Swarm for the time being.  As soon as I find a replacement, I’ll ditch the app duo. Or maybe I won’t even wait that long… Both Yelp and Facebook have improved their apps’ check-in abilities over time, so I may no longer need Foursquare any more than they apparently need me.

Ellen Brenner
Project Manager

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